The "F" Word

  • Published
  • By MSgt Gene Simmons Jr.
  • 501st Combat Support Wing

Webster’s dictionary describes this word as, “the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective.” It’s a word that is considered taboo in the military because we are taught that this word is not an option. Abraham Lincoln encountered this word at least 14 times before being elected to the office of the President of The United States. Michael Jordan encountered this word when he was cut from his high school basketball team as a sophomore but went on to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Thomas Edison faced this word approximately 1000 times while attempting to create the lightbulb. There are countless other individuals who have encountered this word at some point in their life and subsequently were left defeated or rose above the defeat.

The word that I speak of is failure. It’s a word that we all are familiar with, but we avoid it like a plague. Failure is in option and it’s an option that should be embraced because in our failures we find out how much “GRIT” and determination we have. It’s not a matter of if we will fail, it’s a matter of when but more importantly, how we recover from that failure. We live in a society that views failure as a dead end and sadly many are not here with us today because they saw no hope after failing at something. About two years ago I submitted a package to become the First Sergeant for the USAF Thunderbirds Demonstration Team and with recommendations from my Command Chief and other First Sergeants, it was close to becoming a reality. The last box that I had to check was to go out and do something I had done every year, for the last 20 years, which was to pass my physical fitness test. I failed!!!! I had missed my run by a few seconds, but a fail is a fail. How does one go from scoring 80’s and 90’s to receiving a failure?  A First Sergeant failing that test would cause many to gasp because we are required to be the example and find ourselves counseling those who fail their fitness test.

My dream had been snatched from my grips and there was nothing I could do to change the outcome. I could have made the excuse that I had a legitimate injury which should have been documented but I wasn’t going to make excuses, instead I was going to own it. The way we react to our failures determines if we are going to rebound from them or simply give up on reaching our goals. I could have clicked the button and opted to retire but I’m not a quitter so I decided to continue to serve. That decision brought me to my current assignment at RAF Alconbury and I now use my failure as a tool to encourage others to pick themselves up and continue to strive for success in whatever they set out to accomplish.

One of my mentors Dr. Byron C. Hayes, a prominent pastor in the great state of Michigan, has a saying that, “if you can look up, you can get up”. We have to dig deep when we find ourselves in the midst of failure; either make a decision to move past it or let it keep us down. In this Profession of Arms that we serve in, there will be failures. There will be those who fail fitness test, fail to achieve the coveted “promote now” or “must promote” EPR rating, have failed marriages or fail to maintain a New Year’s resolution.

Failure is an option but don’t let it be your only option and definitely don’t let it be your last. Learn from that failure, grow from it and most importantly move past it. Continue to be a better Airmen, spouse, father, mother, etc. Just because you’ve failed at something doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you human and humans fail. People respond differently to failure based on the mindset they find themselves in. You can put a pot of boiling water on the stove and get three different results. Put an egg in the water, the egg will become hard. Put vegetables in the water, they will become soft. Put coffee in the water, the fragrance will give off a pleasant aroma. Some people will face failure and become hard, mean and angry, blaming everyone for their failure. Some face failure and become soft, give up and quit. Lastly, some will face failure and not miss a beat, singing, “though I failed, I will prevail”. Which one will you become when you face the “F” Word?